Aquaman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 attempts to celebrate the past, present, and future of Arthur Curry through short stories by Aquaman veterans Geoff Johns and Dan Jurgens as well as newcomers like Stephanie Phillips, Chuck Brown and Brandon Thomas.
Back in January I reviewed Brandon Thomas’s Future State: Aquaman #1. It’s a brilliant and beautiful story about the next generation of Atlanteans, but I couldn’t help but feel slighted when the Infinite Frontier announcements started rolling in and Aquaman was nowhere to be seen. Now, eight months later, we’re on the precipice of the next set of Aquaman stories. But first, we must take a look back and throw the octogenarian Atlantean a little birthday party.
The anthology kicks off with “The Foxtail”, a story by Jeff Parker and exceptional art by Evan Shaner. It’s a simple Aquaman story about Arthur stopping a conflict between an impossibly large squid and trigger-happy surface dwellers in a submarine, and it’s elevated by Shaner’s colors that take Arthur out of the typically deep blues of the ocean. Plus, there’s a quick cameo by Salty, aka Aquadog, aka the goodest boy in the DC Universe.
Next, Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier deliver a much needed father/son confrontation in “Father’s Day”. Unbeknownst to Aquaman (and us readers), Jackson Hyde has a yearly visit with his father, Black Manta. It’s a tense scene as Manta reveals Jackson has been struggling in his personal life and Jackson retaliates, telling Manta he should turn himself in if he wants to have that kind of relationship.
I’ve got a soft spot for the ongoing Manta/Aqualad story and I’m happy to see them battle it out one last time before their respective miniseries start next month. It’s also a bit of a passing of the torch moment for Johns and Pelletier, although I’m sure the two will return to Atlantis sooner or later.
Some other standout stories include Margurite Bennett and Trung Le Nguyen’s “The Rhine-Maidens”, which takes place in the DC Bombshells continuity. Nguyen’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors give this piece a standout storybook look.
Additionally, Cavan Scott and Scot Easton’s “Between Two Shores” tells a tale of a meeting between Aquaman and his brother Orm, the Ocean Master. Scott’s script explores the rivalry in a really dynamic way by bouncing between the two characters’ perspectives on each page. Easton’s art matches the dynamism by representing the confrontation as a massive storm.
The collection is rounded out by two in-continuity stories that serve as preludes to the upcoming Black Manta and Aquaman: The Becoming miniseries. The creative teams of both books are here to offer a taste of what’s to come. Chuck Brown and Valentine de Landro give a nuanced take on Black Manta in their story “Red Sea”. Here, Manta is more of an anti-hero, “amassing power and wealth for the people,” as his partner puts it.
Writer Brandon Thomas gets to return to Jackson Hyde and Andy Curry in “Foreshadow”. With Diego Olortegui in tow, what starts as a standard babysitting-goes-wrong story quickly elevates into something quite unexpected. Arthur and Jackson are going to a place where no Atlantean has gone before: Apokolips.
These latter stories prove that DC is interested in upending the status quo and taking Aquaman into uncharted waters that I’m certainly excited for. On the other hand, there are a number of stories in this collection that play it very safe within that status quo.
When you compare this to Green Arrow 80th Anniversary from July, which brought readers back to a number of iconic storylines and time periods, you realize how Aquaman has remained stagnant throughout his history. It’s a shame that one of the founding members of the Justice League doesn’t even have that legacy acknowledged. Hell, even a meta-story retreading the tired “Aquaman sucks” trope would have been an interesting read. I can see why DC has tried to distance themselves from that narrative, but like it or not, it’s a part of Aquaman’s legacy and the public consciousness.
I’m trying to imagine who I would recommend picking this book up. If you’re an Aquaman newbie, maybe wait a few weeks for the two new miniseries to drop. And if you’re a hardcore Aqua-fan, you’ve probably seen everything this book has to offer in your tenure as a comic reader.
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